Saturday, 20 September 2008

Meeting the school cow at Ngoma

September 19th

Alarm set early today; I need to finish off my report on Cukiro School before I go to Ngoma. At my advanced age I find that if I leave one report till after I’ve visited a second school, I get the two hopelessly muddled. So I’m a bit late getting to the office and for the third day in a row I take a moto from home. I tell myself it’s because I’m, busy, but in reality I’m just lazy and I’m getting bored with the long walk up through town!

Up to the District Office to collect Soraya and see if I’m going to get another lift with Claude or Innocent, but no joy on both counts. Soraya texts to say she’s going to have a planning day at home, and Claude and Innocent aren’t forthcoming with offers of transport. I’m glad Soraya’s getting straight into planning her work; that’s a good sign and she’s only been coming with me to get some experience of what primary schools are like. She’s been to about six with me so she’s already got a good impression from a wide range of schools.

I find a good motard because I know I’ve got a hilly run again, and off we go. It’s a beautiful morning and I feel relaxed about life. I’ve got a rough idea where the school is, which is more than the driver. First he tries to drop me off at Karama secondary school, about ten minutes out of Gitarama. On we go. I remember the right turn that Innocent pointed out to me yesterday, and we take it. So far, so good. Of course, there’s not a hint of a signboard for the school.

What Innocent didn’t tell me is that after turning right, we have to turn right again. But we sail on down the road for a couple of miles till we reach a school. “Hey”, I think, “this is too good to be true”. And so it turns out. The school we’ve cruised into is Gikomero Protestant, the wrong school. Gikomero is in a different secteur! Actually, I’m inspecting this one on Monday, so it’s a useful false move – Monday will be a piece of cake.

We drag a teacher out of her classroom and ask for directions. It’s no use her explaining to me; she needs to talk to my diver in Kinya. He’s reticent about going into her classroom. We end up having the conversation with her entire class of 50-odd little boys and girls hanging out of the doors and windows.

Back up the road and eventually we find the right trail. It’s just an overgrown lane with a green strip in the middle. There’s absolutely no clue whatsoever that it goes to anything other than a few houses. How on earth am I supposed to find these schools when I start going out on a moto on my own?

Ngoma turns out to be worth the trouble. It’s a brand new school, built two years ago. All built in one piece, and with a tronc commun section attached and open. The toilets are adequate, there are about 6 afritanks catching rain water – enough at the moment to last them through the dry season. The walls are brick, the roofs are tin. The windows are glazed, and are on both sides of the rooms. It’s the lightest, airiest school I’ve found so far. The room interiors are plastered and emulsioned. A Rolls Royce of a school. They have a solar panel which generates them about three hours of electricity a day.

What’s not so good is that despite these lovely rooms there’s absolutely nothing on the walls – no posters, nothing to stimulate children or fire their imaginations or serve as aide memoirs. It’s as if nobody dare sully the fresh magnolia paint!

The children are well behaved to the point of being subdued. After a few minutes I discover the reason. The whole school is doing assessment tests today in maths and Kinyarwanda. I watch three lessons – 2ère, 3ème and 5ème. All of them consist of children working through a blackboard full of problems and exercises. I’m none the wiser in the Kinyarwanda, and the maths is so dull I find myself yawning.

I can’t do a proper critique of their lessons because these teachers aren’t teaching in any normal sense; they’re going through the tests question by question, with one child working the answers through on the blackboard while the others watch like hawks, ready to pounce if he or she makes the slightest mistake.

This is a high achieving school. There is a really all embracing strategic plan. It’s not without its problems – parents who don’t support, staff who live a long way out (one woman is due to give birth in less than fortnight and is absolutely enormous), and like Mbare it has a public road running right through the yard with vélo taxis and the occasional car churning through.

Highlight of the morning is that when the head greets me, and I ask for a tour of the school, the very first thing he shows me is the school cow! Not a Holstein as at Murama, but a real Rwandan cow. She lives in a dinky little wooden shed. There’s no proper cultivated garden as in most other schools (Ngoma hasn’t got much room), but there’s a patch of cow grass which is being carefully eaked out to feed her. She’s being well looked after - compared to many cattle I’ve seen this one is sleek and well fed. She even lifts her head at the right moment to have her picture taken.

We end up with a debrief in front of all the staff and a fanta before my moto comes to collect me. He’s a good driver and I’m beginning to recognise their tabard numbers to use them again ; 112 and 115 are good. Number 106 is the twerp who abandoned Soraya and I at Gisiza….. I’ll walk rather than use him again.

Back in Gitarama I call at Soraya’s but she’s not there – she’s up at the District Office. However Hayley is at home and is pleased to have me as her first visitor. It’s her first full day in Gitarama; she’s been in to her workplace (the YWCA) but has been given the afternoon off to finish settling in. She’s getting to grips with brewing up tea on a paraffin stove. It’s slow and sooty and smelly and I’m so glad Tom and I are using gas for cooking.

Back home I spend a boring afternoon writing up my report, and trying to finalise my schools for next week. I’m going to try to do five inspections, and three have already confirmed. It’s just the ideal time for visits – the weather’s perfect with no rain during the day this week; the roads are easy to manage; the views are just superb beyond words, and I’m right out in the wilds where few white people ever go. Prime gawping country for every Rwandan I pass! It’s absolutely everything I came here for, and with the added bonus that I know Claude is happy with what I’m doing.

Late in the afternoon Irene drops in; her Dutch manager has just arrived and for some reason they’ve come down to Gitarama. She brings biscuits; I make tea. He’s well impressed that Irene seems to have contacts everywhere, so we don’t let on it’s just a fluke that we know each other.

The evening passes quickly with trying to get blogs updated and a load of other domestic stuff. It’s been a hectic three days and I’m really tired. Almost like being back at proper work….

Best thing about today – being out in the countryside doing what I like doing. A wonderful school – new, good quality teaching, good results. It makes you optimistic when you find somewhere like this. In three days I’ve moved from a school with real problems to one which could be a model for all the others to follow.

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